The first product Bobbi Brown sold to a major buyer was a line of 10 lipsticks to the department store Bergdorf Goodman in New York City 1991. She expected to sell 100 lipsticks in a month – and ended up selling as many in a single day.
For her latest venture, Brown has taken a different retail direction.
Brown, 63, got her start as a professional makeup artist in the 1980s, and then founded Bobbi Brown Cosmetics as a brand dedicated to bringing out the wearers’ natural beauty, rather than trying to mask it under the layers of loud eyeshadow and rouge that had been in vogue at the time.
She sold the business in 1995 to Estée Lauder (EL) under then-CEO Leonard Lauder and stayed with the company for more than two decades, helping grow Bobbi Brown Cosmetics into a $1 billion brand. Brown announced she would be parting ways with her namesake beauty brand in late 2016.
Now as CEO of her new venture, Beauty Evolution, Brown launched Evolution_18 in 2018. The self-funded supplement line catapulted Brown into the more than $4.5 trillion global wellness industry with a panoply of powders, capsules and gummies to complement Brown’s long-time message of promoting “beauty from the inside out,” or the notion that wellness goes beyond what people put on their skin.
Armed with decades of experience in the broader beauty, health and wellness space and a name that had become known internationally, Brown could likely have landed a number of retail partnerships to sell the products. She chose initially to launch the brand direct-to-consumer (DTC) and on the e-commerce site QVC. Then she added Walmart (WMT) and Kohl’s (KSS) as retail partners to sell Evolution_18.
In similar fashion to her earlier ventures, both those opportunities came to her as moments to be seized.
“Nothing in my life is like deciding things. I entered Bergdorf Goodman because I met a cosmetics buyer at a party. And that's how I entered Bergdorf Goodman,” Brown said during an interview with Yahoo Finance Presents. “And I entered Walmart because they reached out to us. And the same thing with Kohl’s.”
“It was interesting to me. Walmart has such a giant platform that I’m able to reach so many more people, not just on selling products to them, but also as someone that likes to empower people, to reach people, and to teach them the importance of eating good food, taking better care of yourself and being able to care for your families when you feel better in your body,” she added.
In her next move for the company, she’s launching an Amazon store (AMZN) for Evolution_18 “in the next couple of weeks,” Brown said.
Brown’s wellness brand launch and choice of retail partners has represented a departure from the luxury cosmetics space where she got her start. Under Estée Lauder, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, while also sold online, has remained a mainstay in luxury department stores including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.
These companies, however, have themselves struggled to keep sales afloat amid a broad consumer shift to shopping online. Weighed down by a lack of foot traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lord & Taylor – which also sold Bobbi Brown Cosmetics – filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to close dozens of stores. U.S. retail sales at department stores in August were still down nearly 17% over last year, even as sales in other stores elsewhere returning to growth, according to the Commerce Department.
“I don't remember the last time I've personally been in a store. So I do go to the, unfortunately, to the post office to return my boxes that don't fit me, but just like anyone else,” Brown said. “I just think people are shopping differently. And you know, hopefully, one day people will go back in stores. But I'm excited to be where our customer is.”
“I love being able to offer an affordable product to people, because I know that people right now are having challenges,” Brown added about Evolution_18. “That really excited me. And certainly the scale excited me. And you know, we pretty much have two tiers: We have the direct-to-consumer, which is a little higher price and more formulaic. And then we have the simpler formulas that we're able to offer at a better price.”
As for Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, Brown said that while she wishes them well, she has not looked back on her decision to leave the brand.
“People still on Instagram reach out to me, ‘Why did they discontinue this? Why did you do this? How do I get this back?’ And so I'm constantly telling people I'm not there anymore,” Brown said. “And I'm someone that believes that once you walk away from something, it gives you an opportunity to do something else.”
Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck
Read more from Emily: